Personalization, Privacy & The Creep Index

Earlier this week, Google emailed thank-you cards out to advertisers.  Each contained a "personalized" video that showed company names in a variety of BIG ways to say thanks.  It was super-cool; even though you knew it was an automated template, you couldn't help but feel special.  Google does big things; it is what makes Google, Google.

This got me thinking about personalization and privacy.  This past Saturday, MediaPost's Search Insider Summit examined the topic of privacy.  Personalization, in the Google thank you example, was warm and fuzzy.  But, advertisers face a dilemma today: how much is too much.  At what point will consumers feel invaded and violated?  How do you make advertising more relevant without becoming creepy?



I think we need a movement to educate consumers.  I understand why consumers are concerned about the collection of their personal information, but it seems there is a lack of understanding as to exactly how information is stored and used.  I like to think of it as buckets, with pieces of information about each user falling into one or more bucket.  Then, those buckets are used to make the product better, the advertising better and profits better.  The more efficient the marketing efforts are to move a product, the lower the cost of the product can be to consumers.

Yesterday, the Obama administration called for a "privacy bill of rights" for online consumers come with a department to enforce a "code of conduct".  The report calls for easy to understand privacy policies, as opposed to a "Do Not Track" function in web browsers initially proposed by the Federal Trade Commission. 

I know this is a short post, but I am hoping to start a conversation among readers.  Some may say that my angle is a much too simplified way to look at it, so please feel free to comment on your position at the end of this post.

8 comments about "Personalization, Privacy & The Creep Index".
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  1. Dave Kohl from First In Promotions, December 17, 2010 at 12:48 p.m.

    Janel, there is one more aspect to this story, and that is the role that many consumers are playing in doing this to themselves.

    For example, thousands of people are upgrading to the new Facebook profile, which is really done to allow its advertisers to better target their audience. It's hard to fault advertisers to going overboard on privacy when consumers are letting this happen. I'm sure many who have already upgraded don't realize this.

  2. Russell Cross from Prentke Romich, December 17, 2010 at 12:53 p.m.

    I'm for the "education of consumers" rather than government legislation - admittedly that sounds a little like a knee-jerk reaction but my experience in the private business sector for of 25 years suggests, on balance, that government "assistance" is more often than not a hindrance rather than an asset.

    Further, there does seem to be a startling lack of knowledge about the interplay between "privacy" and the "internet." As an example, there are many Facebook users who believe that they are free to say anything they like in what is, explicitly, a public forum, yet appear to be genuinely shocked when other people use that information in some way or another. When boozy teens post their weekend binges and get called into the office on Monday, the mere fact that the phrase "invasion of privacy" is used as a defense suggests that there is a fundamentally misunderstanding of "privacy" and "public" when it comes to data.

    OK, I appreciate I'm shooting from the hip and may regret it, but I'm taking up Janet's suggestion to "start a conversation" ;)

  3. Bruce May from Bizperity, December 17, 2010 at 1:52 p.m.

    The idea that consumers must be individually responsible for controlling an infrastructure that remains hidden with little explanation of how it works and no effective controls to manage their privacy expectations across multiple platforms is simply ridiculous. The only way to make the system responsive to the real needs and concerns of consumers will require that the businesses that create the ecosystem work with government to design effective mechanisms that will satisfy consumer needs. I have talked about the “creep factor” before. We have not yet begun to reach the point where tracking solutions work well enough that consumers will even notice they are being tracked. As tracking systems improve the point will come when consumers will notice and that is when the creep factor will kick in. The administration and Congress are already concerned with how this all works. This conversation needs to embrace their concerns if it is to lead to meaningful solutions.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 17, 2010 at 6:34 p.m.

    Listen to Bruce.

  5. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, December 18, 2010 at 10:55 a.m.

    Did anyone ask the people if they want advertising, care to see advertising etc online? Your premise makes the assumption that we do. Maybe we are ok with the ads being there because we know it subsidizes the cost of the content. But the fact is even if the advertising was perfect, do you think we want to spend our time clicking ads when we came online for another reason? I really don't think so. We are assaulted in our lives everywhere by Brands and Marketers trying to sell us. Every single place we look there are ads.

    I personally think people if asked want to see much less advertising. We already see Brand pitches when we go shopping. Talk to us in the store. Or when we log into the web store to buy something.

    That all being said. I bet people would dig reducing advertising by 90% and make the 10% relevant enough to be interesting.

  6. M. Davis from Kinetics Marketing & Communications, December 19, 2010 at 5:12 p.m.

    Being in the industry, nothing really shocks me about the amount of information that advertisers know and use. However, anytime I am with a group of non-marketing consumers, the only time they bring up advertising is to say, "Isn't it scary what advertisers know about us?" I feel like this is going to be a real balancing act for sites like Facebook that know more about us than our parents do and most people see as an online "home away from home." As advertising on social sites becomes more and more targeted (I see you shop at xx, you went to xx college and your are xx years old--Facebook putting my age in ads was especially off-putting), people are going to get creeped out a bit. The important issue is will they boycott the site or passively complain about it?
    - Monica

  7. Ross Bradley from Qeg Pty Ltd, December 19, 2010 at 6:26 p.m.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

    This is more than 'the voice of the industry' (AdExchanger) will allow, as they much prefer to 'bury' (and to not publish) any comment that is not exactly 'in line' with their own one sided thoughts on this (very much a), 'hot potato' subject.

    In the above recent 'spin/bias' type article, the authors (from a law firm), point out the following:

    "Facebook has implemented privacy practices so that users see quite clearly every time a third party application wants access to their data, and the user can decide on a "just in time" basis whether to permit such access or not (and if they do not, they do not get access to the application)."


    "If they do NOT, they do not get access..." ????

    So, the question is? - What then is stopping many other publishers following this very same course, in time?

    There are many (other) implications, that must be considered, surely?

    Ross Bradley - LC

  8. Ross Bradley from Qeg Pty Ltd, December 20, 2010 at 4:41 a.m.

    Yes .....

    "If they do NOT, they do not get access..." ????

    So, the question is? - What then is stopping many other publishers following this very same course, in time?

    I guess the following kind of answers that question.

    "The more creative companies will find new ways to legally and ethically make profitable use of information that users openly volunteer," White says.

    A high-visibility Web site publisher, such as sports network ESPN, for instance, could buttress strategies centered around nurturing "first-party relationships" -- open dealings between a Web site publisher and visitor that stand apart from Internetwide tracking by a third-party ad network.

    ESPN's fantasy football leagues and insider columns, for example, already are trusted by hordes of loyal customers who disclose personal information specifically to ESPN in exchange for access to free services."

    (Page 4 of 5)

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